Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Margaret and I had a good run.

When we first met it was golden.  Love at first sight.  She brought a smile to my face, I wanted to show her off to everyone, and she was with me everywhere I went.  Margaret bailed me out of more than one or two jams.  She was quick, direct and without fail, she was always right.  I loved it.  I loved her.

She was a great traveling companion.

Then I started to notice some really annoying characteristics.  They developed out of nowhere.  No warning signs.  No hints of things come to pass.  On our drive from Portland to Seattle recently, completely out of character, the character I loved so much, like a window sill that cracked and creaked in the heat of the day, like a sheep on a windy Irish hillside, she bleated, “Please observe the speed limit!”

It wasn’t so much what she said, but the cold-hearted way she said it.

Unexpected to say the least, the first thing I could think was, Are you kidding me? We’ve been on so many trips together.  You know I tend to drive a little fast. And it wasn’t really all that fast.  I was doing about 120km/h in a 110 one.  Still, I laughed it off and she never said a thing to me for a few hours.

Then when I got to Seattle, the walls of our relationship came tumbling down.  Like a flick of the proverbial switch, she went Sarah Palin (slightly crazy at the realization that’s she’s outdated and stupid) on me and started freaking out.  She had me doing figure eights in downtown Seattle trying to get to my hotel.  And she was relentless.  I would say “you’re wrong” and she’s completely ignore me, repeating the same diatribe over and over again.  Trying to get me to constantly turn up a downward one-way street and down an upward one-way street.  It was insane.  And annoying to no end.

And that was the end.  Like Facebook, I knew it was time Margaret and I would go our separate ways.  We just weren’t a fit for each other.  I needed better feedback.  I needed better focus from her.  I needed her to have a friggin‘ clue how to properly communicate in a timely manner.  I needed her to understand, although that was an impossibility, that a relationship can’t work like this.  Telling me what to do, and then immediately changing your mind is not healthy.  And in the end, it’s best we go our separate ways.

I’ve had this with past clients.  It’s been those strange relationships that start off like I’m dating the goose who laid the golden egg, but they treat the egg and the relationship with little or no regard and suddenly the golden egg becomes a lead weight.  It’s around my neck, and it’s around the client’s neck.  And when we both realize we should move on, we still hang on for no reason other than convenience.  Familiarity.

Familiarity, as we all know, breeds contempt.  Contempt in a creative relationship doesn’t work.  If you can’t communicate effectively with your creative people, your team, your consultant, you’ll never a) get the results you think you want; and b) be open to the ideas that will give you the results you think you want and need.

You have to be open to two-way communication.  Otherwise you’re just another Margaret and you’re in a doomed relationship.

My suggestion is this:

  • Establish Realistic Goals: Have an honest conversation with your creative people about what you want to accomplish.  “More Sales” is not a realistic expectation. Advertising does not increase sales.  Your sales team increases sales.  Advertising generates traffic.  So define your expectation in terms of achievable benchmarks.  “Generate ten more inquiries a day, week, month” is a goal.  Not “more sales”.
  • Stay Engaged: Be a part of the process as much as your team needs you.  If it isn’t going the way you want it to go, make the changes needed early in the process.  Don’t wait until you need to make wholesale changes because you neglected your role in the process.   Not all decisions can be made without you.  Sometimes none of the important decisions can be made without you, so stay involved as you work towards your goals.
  • Communicate: Discuss the direction and ask how you can assist in fine tuning it.  This doesn’t mean micro-manage.  This means be available to your team when they need you.  Give feedback, positive or otherwise, and “No”, “Try again”, or “Not working for me” is not feedback.  It’s comment.  And it’s useless.  Keep it to yourself or your team will dissolve like Redoxin in a glass of water.  Then your lack of communication will have you starting over – again.
  • Look Ahead: Compare your short term expectations to your long term goals.  Are you on track?  Is everyone aware of where you are headed?  Are you listening to the feedback from your creative team as to how your advertising will work now and in the long term?  Looking ahead will help the short term pain of the fresh start easier to accept if you are focused on the long term success of your business.
  • Stop Asking Your Secretary: This is the polite version.  Your creative team is not creating marketing plans that make your staff feel good.  It is for your core target customer base who don’t know as much about your products, services, and company as you and your team know.  Nor is it meant to educate them to your level.  It is meant to create a desire in their mind.  They aren’t as close to it as you, so your secretary’s or accountant’s (actually, never tell your accountant anything about advertising because they hate all things on the “outgoing ledger lines”) opinion is relatively irrelevant.  I’m sure there’s some gross redundancy in that last point, but you get my point.  Oh look, more gross redundancy.

This is how you succeed in a creative relationship.  It’s not rocket science.  Or maybe it is.  I don’t know how smart you are.  The fact of the matter is you need to listen to your creative people.  It’s what they do for a living and if they’ve had any measure of success – enough to be recommended to you on service and results (not price) – then they know WTF they are doing. (For those of you who know I despise modern teen-texting acronyms, be it known I like that one).

Communication makes a working relationship work.  Try communicating with your creative team, first by listening to them, and secondly, responding to them.  Otherwise they sit on their ass waiting for you to get around to making the important things to you (like your advertising) an important thing to them.

The alternative?  You’ll just go in circles (or figure eights), trapped in a maze of one-way streets that don’t go the way you want to go and find yourself back in the same place you were not too long ago.

And that’s never a fun way to travel.

Margaret was a good GPS unit in her day.  I loved her like a writer loves his muse.  But she had a complete aversion to updates and upgrades, and wasn’t remotely open to suggestion.  In fact, as time went on she would completely ignore all my input.  When I realized this, I knew we needed to go in separate directions.

No irony in that, of course.


Sometimes, it's just easier to go the short route. A direct flight might not be such an adventure, but who really needs an adventure in advertising?





Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. He establishes solid relationships and listens to his clients, and selectively chooses to work with those who respect his abilities and that which he can do for their business. It’s one more thing that’s made his company, GreatCreative.Com successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.


Grace Kelly

– by Albert Berkshire

My knee stings. My shoulder aches. My head is still ringing.

I imagine Grace Kelly was aptly named. Certainly in her professional career she exuded flawless execution. She didn’t walk as much as glide. She was loved and she was known for many things, including her beauty.  And she was graceful.

I, am not.

The modern day Grace Kelly, I suspect, is equally graceful, and equally loved. The modern day Grace Kelly, likely, is flawless in her professional career, and perhaps the most graceful person you’ll meet. I suspect she can, as did Princess Grace – the evolution of the original Grace Kelly – manage children, staff and a room. Probably a room full of hearts, too. It is grace, after all, that makes presence known.

The Grace Kellys of the world command attention, often without seeking it. They draw the eyes of the room to them no matter what they do. They are sought out, respected, and almost always in control. Almost always. And I suspect that even when they let themselves go to the moment, they are in control of their uncontrolled release, like a flood gate opening gone wrong on the Red River in May of any given year.

In my musings, I see the modern day Grace Kelly sitting on a lawn chair watching kids play on a field. A simple light blue and grey scarf on her head. Auburn hair and tanned olive skin.  A cleverly disguised cocktail-in-a-coffee-mug in hand, she is the envy of the neighbourhood. Beauty has befallen her without requesting permission, and she is no longer free to be anonymous. “Look at her”, they must say with envy from across the field. She’s escaping the world, only everyone is looking at her. That’s what happens to Grace Kellys.

Graceful as the Grace Kellys are, I think they have their frailties. In their own protected ways, they have moments when they are in complete disarray. A broken dinner plate could set them off, if they handle such commoner items. Spying the bottom of a wine bottle could be equally disappointing and unnerving. Or a stumble off a curb might even cause a momentary sensory meltdown. But, still, they handle the most difficult situations, or stumbles, with carefree grace.

They are, after all, Grace Kellys. Modern, or otherwise.

Grace Kelly, had she lived, would have been 82 today. I think sometimes I feel that old, in my overdramatic, flaky writer kind of way. Mostly, though, when I hurt myself…like last week.

I crashed riding in Oregon. I have’t crashed riding mountain bike in years. In fact, four years ago was the last time I crashed. I was 25km in the backcountry mountain biking when I went over the handlebars, into some rock and then the trees…and broke my arm. That one hurt.

I should point out at this moment that I have been banned from any more mountain biking vacations. Not in so much that my partner feels the need to tell me what to do; that’s neither the issue nor the intent. But in the sense that the inevitability of my self-injure (crash, not slash) is enough to suggest that a) others know that there will be a temporary invalid in tow and will be unwilling to travel with us partly out of fear of having to life-save-assist and partly from the perspective of not wanting to be the person asked to pay for the ambulance ride should there be one conveniently placed near my moment of over dramatized near-to-death-did-you-see-that crash; and b) there is the potential for the riding to be cut short and she, the partner, would have to do all the driving as I am incapacitated. For the record, four years ago when I broke my arm riding, she made me, hopped up on T3s with a casted arm in a sling, drive two hours over logging roads and tertiary highways to get us back to our lodge because she was tired. I think I’ll remind her of that soon…or now.

Onward. This ship needs to sail before Princess Grace haunts me for taking so long to make a point.

This crash hurt, too. And it, too, hurt my pride. It was on a simple section of a climb and it was not even remotely difficult. I’ve climbed and descended much more technical trail many times. Often a couple times a week. But time, circumstance, and a pedal cleat that had a secret side-deal with Karma took me down. Well, not all the way down. I never made it to the ground. Just a part of the ground. My knee hit one boulder, my should the next, and on the third, and biggest boulder, my head broke the fall for my body.

About eight months ago I was asked if I was interested contributing my time and professional knowledge to the local board of directors for Brain Trust Canada. They focus on head injury prevention. One of their most common campaigns is “Wear a Helmet”. I do, for the record. And it saved my ass, and head, and career today. (Yeah, I use my head to work. Difficult to imagine, I’m sure.) Advil is still helping a little, too. I should probably follow up on that invitation.

Even a week later, I’m pretty certain that isn’t the phone I hear ringing, but I’m going to go check…just in case.

Let’s hope this is a graceful exit.

While it does look like the injury is smiling, I can assure you I was not. (Apologies to the cleaning staff at AmeriTel Inn, Bend Oregon. I didn't mean to get blood on the towel.)